Wednesday, November 2, 2011

REVIEW: The True Story of Puss 'N Boots

I have to start out by confessing that in this household, we are true Shrek fans. We've savored every new edition of the Shrek saga and have fallen in love with the characters. And we've eagerly anticipated the spin off that pushes sweetly cunning Puss and his doughy eyes into the spotlight. Of course, we know that these Dreamworks creations are merely inspired by the traditional stories and there is little connection to the original tales as the authors penned them.

When Phase 4 Films, through Team Mom, sent me a copy of their new CGI animated film "The True Story of Puss 'N Boots" and promised a movie based on the words of Puss'n Boots creator, Charles Perrault, I was happy to share the watching experience with my kids.

From the opening sequence, I was drawn to the beautifully painted landscapes that served as the backdrops for the action. Luscious color with attention to details proved a visual delight. The characters were delightfully eccentric, and their oddities of appearance made them realistically human. An animated Perrault begins the tale explaining that it is a story too unique not to share. The basic storyline follows his classic story: Peter inherits a special talking cat with magical boots. The cat, named Puss, promises to help Peter win the princess's hand in marriage. An evil ogre is tricked by the cat and loses his life and his castle to Peter.

Puss is voiced by award winning actor William Schatner, who has enjoyed a long and successful television and movie career. As we're most familiar with the Antonio Bandaras Puss - whose sensual Latino twang beckons to listeners, this new voice required some getting used to. At times, Schatner's Puss voice was annoying. There's something gravely and whiny about it that made us want to plug our ears and will him to silence. In fairness, though, Puss isn't a likeable character - - he's a self-proclaimed prankster, a trickster, a rebel. His whole being is devoted to double talk and conscious ommissions that further his purpose.

Directors Jérôme Deschamps and Pascal Hérold note that Perrault's story is "deliciously ammoral." And, true to his text, the movie presents the coniving (and well dressed) Puss as a complete manipulator whose sole purpose is to keep the promise he's made to his owner, Peter, by any means necessary.

The film features eccentric music with a distinctly foreign appeal (clearly we are Americentric in this household). I enjoyed hearing the French seranades by the princess and didn't care that I'd no clue what she was singing about. The soundtrack does not pull from the pop charts, but does tap into classical music and adaptations of lesser known songs and child-friendly rhymes. For someone hoping to sing along with a movie, this is probably not the one to pick. The unfamiliar music, however, gave my kids exposure to diverse cords and lyrics they appreciated.

Now Chi was completely turned off by the extended introduction songs by the Court announcer. His voice was not appealing and his tune carried far too long to be enjoyable or even comical. Chi sat grumbling through every diddy and squirmed in the chair impatiently waiting for the scene to move on. She also questioned the lethargic - or narcoleptic - king. He seemed to move from place to place in the movie while asleep.

I admit that I couldn't stop commenting on the over-exaggerated hourglass figure of the princess. And her ballet-tutu style skirts and leggings only served to accentuate her rotund behind. Despite her shape, though, I loved that her beauty was not the traditional "Disney Princess" look my kids are so often subjected to. Her freckles, close-cropped brown hair, and full lips were adorably average and told of a much more earthy concept of natural attractiveness.

And what is perhaps most endearing about the princess is her insistance that Peter tell the truth. She's already been alerted to his true identity and does not care that he is the son of a miller and not of noble birth. She accepts him for the man he is and appreciates that he supports her interests and praises her talents.

I was particularly fond of the Chamberlain, who has a despicable practice of turning would-be suitors of the princess into toads. He's apparently quite fond of the green beings. His melodramatic moods, crazily parted horn-like hair do, and bulbous nose and midsection make him an interesting character to watch. Chi, however, was not impressed by him. She preferred the ogre, whose temper tantrums turned him involuntarily into an octopus (and he so wanted to be a swan!) She also liked Marcel the chimp, with his gangly legs and pear shaped body.

Peter becomes Puss's pawn as he follows his father's decree, "Always trust the cat. Your destiny is in the cat." He is told he can be whom he wants to be, and his goal is to be the man who wins the princess's heart. His attraction to her penchant for performances (which her parents are decidedly disapproving of) causes him to be mocked by his brothers who berate him for wanting to move above his place. The princess and Peter find a common bond in their determined spirits.

I enjoyed The True Story. It is a carefully crafted story with touches of whimsy that make it unique. There is a quality in the animation that rivals the cinematic blockbusters. And there is a committment to telling Perrault's story that demonstrates a great respect for the classic. It's a movie that I am happy to share with my children and it invited a discussion about fibbing, stretching the truth, and lying that we needed to enter.

* The video was provided by Team Mom on behalf of Phase 4 Films. The views expressed are completely mine.

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